On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage would become legal nationwide. Though many factors have contributed to the increasing acceptance of gay marriage, including an endorsement from President Barack Obama, some Americans’ minds may, too, have been changed by the increasing presence of gay couples in popular culture.
According to a 2012 Hollywood Reporter poll, 27% of people who had changed their minds about gay marriage from anti- to pro- in the last decade said that they made their decision after watching gay characters on shows like Modern Family and Glee.
Over the decades, TV shows have brought gay couples into viewers homes and humanized their struggle for equality. Here are some of the shows that made a difference.
Billy Crystal played the first openly gay character on TV in Soap when audiences met Jodie Dallas in 1977. Though advocates initially worried that the character played into negative stereotypes—dressing like a woman and alluding to suicidal thoughts—Crystal eventually won fans over with a emotional (if imperfect) portrayal.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Ellen DeGeneres made history when she came out on her sitcom Ellen and on the cover of TIME Magazine in 1997. “Now, I feel completely comfortable with myself, and I don’t have to be fearful about something damaging my career if it gets out, because now I’m in control of it — sort of,” she said in the interview.
In a show full of straight couples, Carol and Susan (Jane Sibbett and Jessica Hect) broke ground. Though Ross’ jealousy of his ex-wife Carol’s new partner, Susan, bordered on homophobic, the character redeemed himself when he walked his lesbian ex-wife down the aisle after her disapproving parents bailed on the wedding.
Will & Grace
Will & Grace was the first show featuring two gay characters (Will Truman played by Eric McCormack and Jack MacFarland played by Sean Hayes) to become a bonafide hit. Vice President Joe Biden has cited the show for educating America about gay rights.
Queer As Folk
The L Word
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Six Feet Under
David (Michael C. Hall) and Keith (Mathew St. Patrick) will be remembered for their stable and supportive relationship. Just like straight couples on TV, David and Keith had their ups and downs, but they were truly in love and became one of the first gay families (and one of the first interracial gay families) represented on TV when they married and adopted a child.
Brothers & Sisters
The Shonda Rhimes show has featured many same-sex couples over the course of its 11 seasons. (Other shows she produces like Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder have also taken on issues of gay marriage and shown gay sex scenes—a rare feat on network television.) But the most memorable relationship has been that of Callie and Arizona (Sara Ramirez and Jessica Capshaw) who married and are currently raising a child together.
Mitch and Cam (Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet) are arguably the most popular gay couple in the history of television. Modern Family continues to have great ratings and has won an impressive 21 Emmys. Though critics have pointed out that the couple doesn’t seem nearly as affectionate as their straight counterparts, Phil and Claire, Mitch and Cam’s relationship and eventual marriage showed the American public the similarities between straight and gay couples and advocated for equal protection under the law.
While some high school shows might dedicate an episode or two to sexual identity, Glee was one of the first to take the topic head-on with its introduction of Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer). Kurt eventually met Blaine (Darren Criss) and was permitted to have the same high school sweetheart romance—including losing their virginity to each other—so often celebrated with straight couples in pop culture.
Orange Is the New Black
Fans mourned after the HBO show was canceled after just two seasons. The dramedy about a group of gay friends living in San Francisco earned critical admiration for its realistic portrayal of modern gay life, especially as it came into its own in the second season. The show will get a wrap-up movie on the premium cable channel.